It’s been almost a decade since the last release in the Saints Row franchise (its fourth instalment). Each iteration of the original franchise provided an increased level of madness and high-risk action. However, as things reached its peak in Saints Row IV, many wondered where it would proceed from there. Well, the answer wasn’t to amp up that level of madness with a Saints Row V but rather a reboot of the franchise to build from the ground up with Saints Row (2022) – developed by Volition and published by Deep Silver.
In part, it makes sense to go back to the basics, rebuilding the story and characters in an attempt to bring new fans to the franchise, which wouldn’t have played the early games and wouldn’t ever be bothered to, simply because it’s outdated in terms of graphics and the likes. On the other hand, it does dilute that experience that the original fans have come to expect from these games.
With this reboot, we go back to the beginning, an origin story of how The Saints became The Saints – in something of a different take within the multiverse. The origin story isn’t overly complicated at its core.
In Saints Row (2022), you take on the role of The Boss among a group including three other individuals. The other ‘protagonists’ include Neenah, Kevin and Eli. Your background is that of a former Marshall Defence Industries employee. After a few missions, which all resulted in quite a bit of chaos where the death toll kept creeping higher for the security company, you’re fired after a raid at an event hosted by the CEO of the firm.
Neenah, is a well-known mechanic who is currently working as a getaway driver for one of Santo Ileso’s main gangs, Los Penteros. Kevin is a shirtless DJ with plenty of social media followers and contacts, while working for another rival gang, the Idols, managing the logistics for their heists. Eli is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the group’s background in criminal excursions.
Very early on in Saints Row (2022), The Boss loses his job as an up-and-coming supervisor within the Marshall ranks, he (or she) is left reeling. However, after a shootout between the two rival gangs, he partners with Neenah to save their friends Kevin and Eli who are caught in the crossfire and soon after decide to go it on their own to start their own criminal enterprise. And, thus, The Saints are born.
The backstory is quite intriguing, blending different backgrounds of each of the characters who gel remarkably well. I enjoyed this comradery between these friends who take their venture beyond small side jobs to secure the city as their hunting grounds. But, that’s where the uniqueness of the story comes to an end. The rest of it plays out pretty tame thereafter. The one thing that remains intact throughout, however, is the dialogue between the group in comedic style. It makes up for the bland story with witty quips and plenty of jokes throughout Saints Row (2022). And most of them land very well.
On the city of Santo Ileso, it delivers a semi-decent open-world experience. It is a desert town, somewhere in the mid-west, which is well-known for being a dry and rather flat landscape. And that’s the real tricky part about the world. Unlike many of the other similar games with high rises and tall platforms, there are only one or two buildings that offer this.
What’s also interesting is that you pick up a pair of wings for your outfit very early on in the game, which allows you to glide around the map. But, given the nature of the environment, it’s almost useless. You’re left having to find a few launchpads around the city to thrust you into the air to make use of it. And that sums up quite a bit of the open world in Saints Row (2022). There are a lot of elements to delve into but doesn’t meet the expectations of a real-world environment.
The city is also quite sparse in terms of population, so you don’t often find crowds of people to interact with.
The gameplay in Saints Row (2022) is quite nifty overall. It offers quick-fire action that gets you engaged right off the bat.
With its third-person view, you can perform quite a number of unique stunts and manoeuvres that you don’t find in some other titles. This includes elements such as jumping on car roofs while on the go to get into a better shooting position. There’s also a small parkour vibe with the movements of the character. You can jump fences, find your way onto rooftops by means of surrounding bins and objects lying around. And while you’re in a gunfight, the controls and options make for a unique experience.
You can also approach each battle with varying strategy, from cautious to bold, while bobbing and weaving out of direct line of site. Additionally, you have four slots to choose some unique fighting styles. Here you can place bombs in the pants of an enemy and toss them into a crowd before it goes off. This is the level of crazy we’re familiar with from the original games, which we don’t really see enough of in Saints Row (2022).
The other aspect of the gameplay is driving around town. For the most part, it plays very neatly. The different cars have different mechanics and strengths in Saints Row (2022). This includes speed, offroad capabilities, strength and more. However, the one thing that bothered me a bit was the camera angles as you’re trying to look around the environment while you drive. Thankfully, there’s a solution for this, which lies in the settings.
One of the biggest additions to the game is the number of settings there are to go through in Saints Row (2022). The settings menu isn’t for the faint-hearted. You can basically change the entire experience of the game, how you handle the character, the cars, the gunfights and everything else in between. There are layers upon layers of fine-tuning this experience. While, at the start, I was more than content with the default settings, once you figure out the best options, it makes for a much more enjoyable game.
Further to these customisations, the number of options to customise in-game elements is also quite insane. This is kicked off with the player customisation, which was released earlier this year as a demo called Boss Factory. Here, you’d design your character which you can then import into the game upon launch.
Although I did have initial struggles, having completed my player build on PC and then reviewing the game on Xbox, the use of a unique key to import The Boss delivered the goods. Other customisations in Saints Row (2022) include standard elements such as clothes and cars. However, another unique element of the game is its built-in weapon customisations, so players don’t need to take to modding software to achieve this.
One of the biggest changes and the main reason to draw in new players is the enhancement of graphics from the original franchise. The surroundings in Saints Row (2022) look good and feel good, too.
This is also where you’ll pick up most of the negatives with the game. It’s quite buggy, with some renders not fully up to scratch. But, worse than this, is the interaction of the characters and the elements within the environment. While this is most prevalent in cut-scenes, where characters will lean on a table, for example, and be a few inches off the top of it yet still interacting with it. It’s quite frustrating to witness. I can only hope that a Day 1 patch would resolve this.
At the end of the day, this Saints Row reboot improves upon a lot of the dynamics from the original franchise into a more realistic environment and background. For newcomers, this may not be an issue, with a lot of fun still to be had throughout. However, for fans of the original games, there is quite a lot of wackiness that’s lost in the decade since the last title release. Saints Row (2022) is a more serious take on the franchise.
In a world where many other games exist with similar dynamics, it’s a bit strange – and sad – that developers, Volition, would take away one of the most-loved elements of the game. With ragdoll dynamics and unrealistic, fast-paced action, it made for good fun. I can’t tell yet whether or not the new direction sits well with me. Saints Row (2022) feels more polished but lost a bit of that overall spark that made it stand out from the crowd.
Saints Row (2022)
The rebooted Saints Row franchise sees the return of The Saints in all their comedic splendour. The world is bigger and more realistic. At the same time, these changes make for a more serious game overall, taking away the zaniness we’ve come to expect of the franchise. It may draw in new fans to the franchise but at the same time, may lose some die-hard fans in the process.